Szymanowski: Song of the night

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1; Symphony No. 3 (Song of the Night); Bonus CD: Pierre Boulez in conversation with Andrew Clements
PERFORMER: Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Steve Davislim (tenor); Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien; Vienna PO/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: DG 477 8771

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For his first Szymanowski recording, Boulez has rather curiously chosen two of his most Romantically overblown scores, written as a kind of escapism during the First World War and representing the climax of his orientalist-impressionist phase.

The Third Symphony, really a tone poem for tenor, chorus and large orchestra, and inspired by the poetry of the Persian mystic Rumi, ought to benefit from the luxuriance of the Vienna Philharmonic, but the recording flattens out some of this music’s most vivid detail. Boulez tends to straightjacket the dancing central movement. His musical outlook is much too prudish for the eroticism of the music.

Indeed, Boulez’s reasons for engaging with Szymanowski are far from clear. Showing little sympathy for these remarkable soundworlds, he tries to construct a case for his involvement in an interview on the ‘bonus’ disc. Though he sneers at Szymanowski’s nationalist side – something he never complains about in Bartók or Stravinsky – Boulez attempts some self-justification by warmly recalling his first encounter with Szymanowski’s work. I can’t help suspecting that had the Polish composer been alive and living in Paris during the ’50s or ’60s, he would certainly have been ostracised by Boulez in much the same way as Henri Dutilleux was.

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Steve Davislim is a good tenor soloist, and in the rapt concerto Christian Teztlaff is even finer. The Concerto fares better overall, but there is still more emotion in this music than Boulez and his recording engineers reveal. John Allison